All things considered, she really looks quite good for her age

On Saturday mornings I try to meet with a group of men reading through the church fathers. This past week we read 2 Clement- an ancient Christian sermon. While not the thrust of the sermon, there is a bit of robust ecclesiology:

So then, brothers, if we do the will of God our Father we will belong to the first church, the spiritual one, which was created before the sun and the moon. . . the Books and the Apostles declare that the church not only exists now, but has been in existence from the beginning. For she was spiritual, as was also Jesus, but was revealed in the last days in order that she might save us.

In the mornings I read from the fathers just for myself. Currently I am working through Origen’s work on Song of Solomon. This week he too got to talking about my mom:

For you must please not think that she is called the Bride or the Church only from the time when the Savior came in the flesh: she is so called from the beginning of the human race and from the very beginning of the human race and from the very foundation of the world—indeed, if I may look for the origin of this high mystery under Paul’s guidance, even before the foundation of the world.

Clement goes on to say that no one can know the marvels God has prepared “for his chosen ones.” Origen immediately quotes from Paul’s overflowing sentence on election and predestination in Ephesians 1. This mixture of an eternal mother and predestination plays out in rather fascinating ways today.

The Orthodox Church believes in an eternal church, but not predestination—man must be free to choose. Plenty of evangelicals believe in predestination, but not an eternal church—Israel and the church must never meet. Speaking broadly, it is only orthodox Reformed congregations that would hold to the teachings of the fathers. Because God has eternally chosen all who will believe, that assembly has existed forever.

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Wilhelmus á Brakel on Election and Assurance Part 4- Sanctification

The third characteristic of the truly elect and, therefore, of those who should have assurance of their eternal salvation is sanctification.

If you then perceive within yourself a hatred, repulsion, and sorrow concerning both the secret sins of your heart, as well as your sinful deeds, and if you find an inner delight and love for a godly spiritual frame and the practice of all virtues in the fear, love, and the obedience of God, as being His will; if you perceive within yourself the warfare between flesh and spirit so that sin does not have dominion over you, that is, that you are not governed by your evil will; if sin meets with an internal resistance of your will, being restrained and often driven away by the fear of God; if you perceive within yourself the inclination to pray, wrestle for peace of conscience, and experience the nearness of the Lord; if, either privately or in the presence of men, you desire to let your heart, thoughts, words, and deeds be governed by the will of God; if, I say, these things be in you, then you are a partaker of the spiritual life and the principle of sanctification is in you. This is not the result of your natural disposition, but a gracious gift of God issuing forth from election. Thus, you may conclude your election from this spiritual condition.

Perhaps á Brakel could have done better by expositing 2 Peter 1:5-10, his point is nevertheless made. Hearkening back to the previous two marks, it should be recognized that the force of this argument is only fully appreciated by one who has accepted the biblical teaching regarding total depravity and the spiritual death of the sinner.

The soul that is saved seeks a greater experience of that salvation.

The thought that guides á Brakel’s entire discussion of assurance is that that election is personal.

Why is the gospel proclaimed to you? Why are you called, drawn, and quickened? Why do you know Jesus and receive Him by faith? Wherefore may you have some delight in communion with God and are desirous to fear His name? Does not all of this issue forth from his eternal counsel to save you? Lose yourself in holy amazement and confess with Hagar, “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” (Gen. 16:13), and with the Psalmist, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of Him?” (Psa. 8:4).

Wilhelmus á Brakel on Election and Assurance Part 1

It is thus the duty of every Christian to strive for assurance according to the exhortation of the apostle in 2 Peter 1:10, as this assurance is the fountain of much joy in God and results in much growth in sanctification. One does not obtain this assurance by ascending into heaven to examine the book of life for the purpose of ascertaining whether one’s name is to be found in it (Rom. 10:6-7). Neither is this assurance obtained by imagining oneself to be one of the elect, so that by the duration of this imagination one could consistently maintain this assurance, being of the opinion that it is a sin to be doubtful about it even though one lacks the least foundation for this assurance. Rather, one obtains this assurance from the Word of God wherein is found a clear description of those who are elect. If these characteristics are discerned within, he may draw the conclusion that he is one of the elect. (Christian’s Reasonable Service (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 247.)

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10

Assurance of salvation is something that I have had past struggles with. I know I am not alone in this. As I examine my life it is interesting to me that embracing God’s sovereignty has only increased my assurance. What is the place of assurance on the life of the Christian? Can a person be saved and not know it?

á Brakel begins with the assertion that assurance is indeed something that a believer should seek and have. What I appreciate about the Apostle Peter’s exhortation and á Brakel’s treatment is the recognition, however, that assurance is something the believers do struggle with. At places in the New Testament, we see the biblical authors more certain of the readers’ salvation than the readers themselves (cf. Luke 22:32; Heb. 6:9). We should not miss the fact that Peter’s encouragement demands that some of his readers were indeed unsure of their “calling and election.”

But if God’s election is eternal and sovereign, how can anyone be sure of it? Brakel gives two important ways not to gain assurance. We cannot wish to know God’s hidden decrees. One day the books will be opened. But God is not like Amazon. He does not offer a look inside. In any event, such a vision would be disastrous. Do we live by faith or by sight? Seeing God’s list would only serve to destroy our faith…the very instrument of our salvation.

Secondly, we are not to talk ourselves into assurance. Having the wrong faith is just as damning as having no faith. As the saying goes we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. So we are not assured of being God’s elect by our declaration that we are elect.

So how can I know for certain I am one of God’s elect?

Wilhelmus à Brakel on Reprobation and Election and Reprobation explained as simply as I know how

 God will never damn anyone but for his sins. God does not prevent anyone from repentance, believing in Christ, and salvation. Man and his own free will are to be blamed for the fact that he lives and ungodly life, and it is therefore just when God punishes and damns him for his sins.
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service vol. 1 “Eternal Predestination: Election and Reprobation”)

I really appreciated this chapter and Brakel’s treatment of the very difficult subject of reprobation. He seemed to try to keep the tension of the Biblical testimony. Like election to salvation, reprobation to condemnation is presented as an aspect of God’s eternally certain, absolutely free decision. Yet Brakel consistently maintains that man has only himself to blame for suffering eternal judgment.

Obviously election, reprobation, predestination, foreknowledge, etc. is an impossible sphere of study. There has never really been an agreed upon understanding and- this side of the end- there likely never will be. While I certainly have no delusion of being able to please everyone with a “solution;” I have nevertheless started to explain the dilemma with two statements:

 There is one thing that the saved will never say to God in eternity: “We did it!”

All praise for salvation will always go to God and to the Lamb eternally.

 There is one thing the damned will never say to God in eternity: “I wanted to be saved but you just wouldn’t let me.”

God loves His Son too much to not give to him even one soul that desires salvation.

I am aware that these two statements do not really do anything to explain the decrees of election or reprobation in the past, but merely address the result of those decrees in the future. But we often do not understand the present until we can look back on it in retrospect. These two statements attempt to do the same thing with election and reprobation.

How can you tell who is really elect?

What are we to make of election, falling away, and church membership? It is clear from the history of redemption that there have been unbelievers among the congregation of God’s people, and Scripture makes it clear there always will be (Mathew 13:24-30, 36-43). What are we to make of this? Is it our job to discern who in the church is really saved?

In commenting on 1 Peter 1:1-2—elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father—John Calvin writes, “…we are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but ought on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect; for God thus separates them for the world, which is a sign of election.”

A few hundred years later, Herman Bavinck penned similar sentiments, “Certainly, there are bad branches on the vine, and there is chaff among the wheat; and in a large house, there are vessels of gold as well as vessels of earthenware (Matt. 3:12; 13:29; John 15:2; 2 Tim. 2:20). But we do not have the right and the power to separate the two: in the day of the harvest, God himself will do this. As long as—in the judgment of love—they walk in the way of the covenant, they are to be regarded and treated as allies. Though not of the covenant, they are in the covenant and will one day be judged accordingly.” (Reformed Dogmatics III, p. 232)

No one is perfect. Even saints sin. Do not judge people according to where you are in your spiritual walk; or where you think they should be in theirs. Is a person faithful to attend the assembly of believers on the Lord’s Day? Does he evidence a desire, however small, for spiritual things and growth in the Lord? Count him as a brother. Christ knows all those that are his and will not lose one of them. You are not privileged with such knowledge or ability.

The Trinity in Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-2 The Trinity in the Salvation of Pilgrims

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1Peter 1:1-2)

As with Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, Peter begins his first epistle with a Trinitarian summary of salvation. But it would be a mistake to view 1 Peter 1:1-2 as merely a condensation of Paul’s longer sentence in Ephesians 1:3-14. The two apostles approach the subject from different viewpoints. Paul is concerned with the vertical aspect of Trinitarian salvation: everything is for the praise of God’s glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Peter takes the horizontal perspective: what does Trinitarian salvation mean for God’s people?

Salvation means that God’s people are sojourners and exiles (1:1, 17; 2:11) on this earth. God’s people are saved from the condemnation of sin. They are saved from judgment. They are heirs of eternal life. Yet their inheritance is in heaven (1:4), while they remain on earth. God’s people have been left in the world, though they no longer belong to it. So 1 Peter 1:1-2 describe how the grace of God works in the salvation of His people and their life as pilgrims.

The choosing foreknowledge of God the Father is how we became pilgrims. As commentator Peter Davids notes, “The cause of their salvation is not that they reached out to a distant God, but that God chose to relate to them and form them into a people, his people.” If we step back and consider the theologically loaded terms “elect” and “foreknowledge” under the umbrella of grace, we see that salvation could come by no other way than that which Davids summarizes.

A common view of foreknowledge is that God looked down through the ages and saw all those people who would embrace salvation if they were given the chance and then God ordained that they would indeed get the chance and be saved. But how is this grace? “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:5-6). If God just saw everyone who would choose him and then he chose them, how is that grace? How is that unmerited favor? For the Father’s election and foreknowledge to be gracious, he must be the initiator, not the responder. Otherwise, he is just giving people what they deserve: and that is not grace.

“Sanctification in the Spirit,” refers to our continued life as pilgrims. Wayne Grudem states, “Peter is saying that his readers’ whole existence as chosen sojourners of the Dispersion is being lived in the realm of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The unseen, unheard, activity of God’s Holy Spirit surrounds them almost like a spiritual atmosphere in which they live and breathe, turning every circumstance, every sorrow, every hardship into a tool for his patient sanctifying work.” The Holy Spirit is the one working together all things for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose. The life of the exile is one of stress and pressure. He does not have the rights of a citizen. He is ostracized from the comfort fellowship and aid of community. He has no feet to stand on; no voice to raise; no vote to be cast. From the Father’s gracious decision to make us exiles, the Holy Spirit graciously uses their hardships of exile to make us more fit for heaven.

“For obedience to Jesus Christ,” is the purpose of our pilgrimage. There is a wonderful freedom of being a pilgrim of heaven; an exile on earth: God’s people are free from the laws of the planet. God’s people are set free from obeying the dictates of popular opinion. God’s people are set free from being slaves to fads. God’s people are wonderfully liberated from the constraints of political correctness. All of the unwritten laws that have so much more real power than any legislation of Congress are made powerless to God’s pilgrims. God’s people are released from the chains of society to obediently serve Jesus Christ.

“For sprinkling with His blood,” is the maintenance of our status as pilgrims. As Alan Stibbs comments, “…the cleansing virtue of Christ’s death is available, and will be needed, until the end of our earthly pilgrimage. Our calling is to obey; but when we fail the atoning blood can still be sprinkled.” Or, from someone with a bit more authority, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The blood of Christ avails to purify us when we fail. He ever lives at His Father’s right hand to intercede on our behalf.

Pilgrim, take heart! You have been set on your course by the gracious choice of the Father. The Holy Spirit broods over your pilgrimage to guide the journey to its appointed end. Jesus Christ, the One who is the goal of the journey, has charted the path and keeps you fit for it. Grace and peace are multiplied beyond measure.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 10. Containing a brief exposition of monergistic salvation and Trinitarian revelation

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22

These two verses contain two references to the Trinity: one direct, and one via cross reference.

In verse 21 we witness the work of the Holy Spirit in the Son causing him to offer thanksgiving to the Father. In the context of the chapter we are at the place in Jesus’ ministry where he sent out the 72 disciples and they returned rejoicing over all the works they were empowered to do: particularly their ability to cast out demons.

Jesus tenderly corrects them in telling them that they do have cause to rejoice, but that their rejoicing should focus on their place in heaven not their power over hell. In this admonition I believe there is a word to those today who seek after miraculous demonstrations of power; who claim special status or position because of the wonders they do; who state the normal Christian life is the miraculous Christian life. It is the same word that Paul would later state to the similarly deluded Corinthians: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31).

This is not to say that we are to simply “rest in the Lord” when it comes to salvation. Indeed, this seems to be the opposite error that infects broader evangelicalism. There are many who feel that once they have “prayed the prayer” there is not much else to do in the Christian life except make an occasional guest appearance at church, give a little something every now and then, but otherwise do nothing to evidence the grace of God. This is due in large part to the shallow gospel that is preached to them and the shallow gospel they believe. The gospel that preaches a salvation that comes with no strings attached. The gospel that proclaims come as you are and leave as you were. The gospel that pleads for a prayer but not repentance and belief. Yes, we are saved by faith alone; but the faith that saves is never alone. True faith produces works.

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us that salvation is due to the work of God the Father. It is God the Father who has written the names of believers in heaven (10:20); he hides salvation from the wise and graciously reveals it to those whom he wills (10:21). The Father is “Lord of heaven and earth.” He is sovereign over all things, and this includes the salvation of sinners.

A common charge against the reformed understanding of salvation is that it leads to pride and arrogance about God’s choice. But any self-professed Calvinist who is proud of his salvation has certainly not understood what Calvin and the other like-minded reformers (to say nothing of Jesus and the apostles) taught regarding salvation. A biblical understanding of God’s election brings nothing but humble rejoicing. When one realizes that there is nothing good in himself; that he can do nothing to merit his salvation; that his salvation is based entirely upon God’s good pleasure; he can do nothing but respond in humble praise. In eternity, not a single man will be praised for making “the right choice” when it comes to salvation. God and the Lamb receive all the praise, honor, and glory. For salvation is of the Lord.

In verse 22, Jesus continues emphasizing God’s sovereignty in salvation. In a marvelous statement that begins to stretch our capability of comprehension Jesus teaches vital truths about relationship and revelation in the Trinity.

After making the well-supported statement that the Father is Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus boldly proclaims that he has the same title of authority. The Son proclaims that “all things” have been handed over to his control. Statements like this flatly contradict those scholars that assert Jesus had no God-consciousness, or that he never claimed equality with God, or deity itself. The enemies of Jesus understood statements like this and their implications well: it is the very reason they delivered him to Pilate to be crucified (John 5:18; 19:7).

Just as Jesus asserted that God’s sovereignty over heaven and earth extended to man’s salvation; he proclaims that he is sovereign over who knows God. The Father and the Son have complete knowledge of one another. Such knowledge is perfect and eternal. Because the Son has dwelt eternally with the Father he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Father (John 1:1, 18). Because the Father has dwelt eternally with the Son he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Son (John 6:44, 65; 2 Cor. 4:6).

But where does that leave us? Jesus is no longer on earth revealing the Father. The Father no longer raises up prophets and apostles to add to his word. Are we abandoned? In no way.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:9-11)

1 Corinthians 2:11 completes the teaching on Trinitarian knowledge and revelation. Jesus taught that he alone had knowledge of the Father and He alone could give that knowledge to others. Paul proclaims that the Spirit alone has knowledge of the Father and the Spirit alone communicates that knowledge to others.

We are left with two options: either Jesus or Paul—and therefore Scripture as a whole—are wrong; or, we are led onward to accept the orthodox teaching of the Trinity. What the Father has in his essence, the Son knows and has in his essence. What the Father has in his essence, the Spirit knows and has in his essence. God is one in essence, three in persons. Such knowledge of God—yea, any and all knowledge of God—is only given to and received by those children God himself wills to reveal himself.

If you know anything of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is only because God has chosen to bless you with such knowledge. Who will not humble tremble before such an awesome gift?